By GRAHAM MOOMAW
COLLEGE PARK (Feb. 10, 2010) - As Maryland gets pounded again with double-digit snowfalls, state officials are still waiting for a federal response to a disaster declaration request submitted by Gov. Martin O'Malley more than three weeks ago.
That request will cover the snow storm that hit the state in December, but officials will likely start work next week on another request for the most recent batch of blizzards.
Frank Ferreira, a spokesman for FEMA's mid-Atlantic regional office, said that the previous request is "still under review" and that there is nothing abnormal about the time it's taking to process the request.
North Carolina and New Jersey were both declared disaster areas last week after being hit by the same storm in December.
The entire Maryland congressional delegation signed onto a Jan. 20 letter urging President Obama to speedily declare Maryland a major disaster area, which would make the state eligible for federal funding assistance on a cost-sharing basis.
The amount of federal funding the state may be eligible to receive won't be known until the request goes through. In a disaster declaration request, a governor has to certify that combined local, county, and state resources have been overwhelmed by the cost of the recovery. FEMA then reviews a damage assessment and makes a recommendation to the president.
The response to December's storm cost the state an estimated $19 million. As of last Tuesday, the state had already spent $54 million of the $60 million budgeted for snow removal this winter. Though there isn't a specific estimate yet, the costs to recover from the recent back-to-back storms are likely to exceed that figure by a wide margin, putting further strain on an already tight state budget.
Maryland's two senators and eight House members wrote in that letter, "With severe winter weather beginning in our state as early as October, the ability of our State to respond with supplies, resources, and staff has been badly hampered."
Shaun Adamec, an O'Malley spokesman, said that even though the state has entered "uncharted territory" due to the weather, the lack of a disaster declaration for December's storm hasn't impeded recovery efforts for the ones that followed. Right now, officials are focused on more practical matters.
"The biggest hurdle, particularly with this new storm, is finding places to put the snow," Adamec said. "Funding will not be an issue."
Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said that the FEMA delay could be due to the fact that the December storm put Maryland near the threshold of qualifying for federal aid, so FEMA officials are taking the time to examine a number of criteria such as how the snowfall measures up to historic highs and snow measurements in each county.
McDonough said that the most recent storm could very well bring a quicker response from FEMA because it clearly exceeds the requirements for a disaster declaration.
MEMA is now trying to determine if the state will need to make two additional disaster declaration requests for the most recent storms, or if they can be rolled into one.
McDonough said he expects the agency to make another disaster declaration request next week, after the state's emergency responders have had a chance to stop and take a breath.
"We'll do what we need to do," said McDonough. "We'll worry about figuring out how to pay for it after the fact."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.